Thursday, March 04, 2010

Frugal Funding

Yesterday, Tom Friedman reported a conversation with Intel's CEO Paul Otellini looking for yet another cheap shot criticism of American public schools. Otellini deflected the opportunity.

Instead Otellini, offered a series of fairly pedestrian prescriptions that advocated the usual tax break rhetoric one would expect from a corporate lobbyist. But the closing statement in Friedman's column of Otellini's concern about changing the course of a company during economic crisis is worth examining in the context of education.
“Having run a company through a major transition, it’s a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to,” said Otellini. “The cost is less. You have more time. I am a little worried that by the time we wake up to the crisis we will be in the abyss.”
This year I have taken a very strong stand on reducing the EO Smith budget. I'm hoping to convince the Board that a one percent year to year reduction is in order. And my reasoning echoes Otelllini.

I think we need to be preemptive about managing costs that are spiraling out of control. And I also have no intention of waiting for the next crisis to paralyze our communities. That's not the time to have this conversation.A friend of mine brought a recent speech by NJ Governor Chris Christie to my attention.
...we can no longer continue on a path where we say we are going to reduce spending at the state level but we are not going to give you any tools to do that at the municipal level and the school board level.

By the same token I am tired of hearing school superintendents and school board members complain that there are no other options than raising property taxes. There are other options.

You know, Marlboro, after a two year negotiation, they give a five year contract giving 4.5% annual salary increases to the teachers, with no contribution, zero contribution to health care benefits.

But I am sure there are people in Marlboro who have lost their jobs, who have had their homes foreclosed on, and who cannot keep a roof over their family's head there is something wrong.

You know, at some point there has to be parity. There has to be parity between what is happening in the real world, and what is happening in the public sector world. The money does not grow on trees outside this building or outside your municipal building. It comes from the hard working people of our communities who are suffering and are hurting right now.

...[snip]...

I would love to tell you that municipal aid will stay level, but it's not. And it's not because we don't have the money. So you need to prepare. You need to prepare for what's coming down the line because we have no choice but to do these things.

And so we need to get honest with each other. In this instance, the political class,for which unfortunately all of us are a member of, the political class is lagging behind the public on this. The public is ready to hear that tough choices have to be made. They're not going to like it. Don't confuse the two. But they are ready to hear the truth.

In fact, they find it refreshing to hear the truth.

They are tired of hearing, don't worry I can spare you from the pain, because they have been hearing that for a decade, as we have borrowed and spent and taxed our way into oblivion.

We have done every quick fix in the book that you can do. And now we are left, literally holding the bag.

Leadership should be about making tough decisions. I'm not hear to tell you that anything you are going to have to do as mayors, council people will be easy. But I firmly believe after spending the last year traveling around the state of New Jersey, talking to regular citizens, that this is what they are expecting us to do.

They are also expecting us to ferret out waste and abuse. But they also know that old song that waste and abuse is going to balance the budget is an old and tired one, and it's not going to.

...[snip]...

We need to understand we are all in this together. And you know, all of you know in your heart, what I am saying is true. You all know that these raises that are being given to public employees of all stripes, we cannot afford. You all know the state cannot continue to spend money it does not have. And you all know that the appetite for tax increases among our constituents has come to an end.

And so the path to reform and success is clear. We know what it is. We just have to have the courage to go there. What we are doing is showing people that government can work again for them, not for us. Government has worked for the political class for much too long.

There's no time left. We have no room left to borrow. We have no room left to tax. So we merely have room left now, to do this. We are all reaching the edge of a cliff. And it reminds me a bit of that part of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where the had a seminal decision to make. So what did they do? They held hands and they jumped off the cliff.

We have to hold hands at every level of government, state county, municipal, school board. We have to hold hands and jump off the cliff.

I firmly believe we will land and we will be fine. It does not mean it will not be a scary ride on the way down. And it does not mean there won't be moments of fear and moments of apprehension.

But for certain, the troops of the decades of overspending and overborrowing and overtaxing have gained on us. So the ruination of New Jersey's economy, and of the quality of life we want all our citizens to have, is certain if we do not take this course.

It's time for us to hold hands and jump off the cliff. It's time for us to do the difficult things that need to be done and to stop playing the petty politics of yesterday, of lying to the people telling them they do not have to pay for it because someone else will.

We are going to make the leap because that's what people elected me to do. We are going to make the leap because it is the responsible thing to do. We are going to make the leap and we are going to do it together because that is what leadership demands for us. That is what the responsibility of the offices we hold requires of us.
Connecticut is in the same economic condition as New Jersey. A few details will vary but Gov. Christie's speech is true and urgent.

In order for Region 19 to survive the current economic malaise and to eventually recover, our community needs to constrain the budget severely this year. It's unpleasant and it will be uncomfortable but its necessary for the sake of all the communities involved.

EO Smith will have larger class sizes and parents, students, and teachers will holler but quite frankly these class sizes are already being experienced at the elementary school levels because of the strain the EO Smith budget puts on local budgets. And class size is a far more important metric at the elementary school levels than they are in high school.

EO Smith, its teachers and students can handle it. If tax-payers can handle adversity then our schools and children need to learn to as well.

EO Smith has a chronic problem that needs our attention. The track and field needs rebuilding. I cannot support a referendum to fund that rebuilding unless our Region 19 budget is brought into a significantly constrained scope.

I have served on the Board for over four years and in all of those years generous spending habits dictated budget. For the foreseeable future we need to change that formula so that EO Smith spends only what is frugally budgeted.

In a recent essay on abundance called "How Abundance Breaks Everything", Clay Shirky provides some insight in how we can manage the economic changes we're going through.
It’s easy to say “preserve the best of the old and combine it with the best of the new,” but in revolution, the best of the new is incompatible with the best of the old. It’s about doing things a whole new way.
Spending less money will have its challenges but those challenges are opportunities to re-invent the way we deliver education. We cannot reduce the budget and not change the way we do business. That is an implicit consequence of that decision.

I've given you my viewpoint. This is what I'm voting for and why. As citizens you need to think about all of this and make your voices heard.

I'm listening but this year I'm not voting to spend any more money than we can afford unless I hear some damned good arguments to change my mind.

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